Genetics Will Let Parents Build Their Baby

And when we asked the women whether it would be all right to change genetics to avoid a disease, the answers changed dramatically.

"I would say yes," Goldberg said. "I am a hypocrite, but I think health is the most important part of anything. As long as the kid is healthy that's all I care about."

And that answer is a good indicator for the future in the field of genetic manipulation.

Scientists say the ability of a parent to shape a child's health may well be the biggest advance 25 years from now.

Already, geneticists can tell parents whether an embryo carries a gene that would make a child more susceptible to certain cancers.

It is controversial, but some parents are already choosing to implant embryos that do not have those defective genes.

In 25 years, the experts say, we will only know more about genes and their connection to disease and health.

Theoretically, science could create babies who are super-resistant to diseases.

"I don't think parents are going to be so vain and use the technology to pick out a particular hair color or eye color when they would really like to do is have a child that is going to be healthy and live a long life. And I think really what the most important thing parents are going to want to select are those genes that protect against cancer or heart disease. I think that's what is going to happen," Silver said.

The reason science is moving so quickly has to do with one discovery.

A few years ago, scientists mapped out the human genome. Think of it as a giant code book, or catalog of all the genes in the human body.

"Decoding the genome gave us the encyclopedia, but we don't have the index yet," said futurist Paul Saffo. "We have all the information, and now everybody is pouring over it with computers and trying to figure out what it all means."

Experimenting on mice, geneticists are constantly trying to isolate new genes and figure out what they do.

Of course, genes aren't the only factor in determining traits -- environment matters, too. And that means determining why a person is a talented pianist or smart in mathematics is very tricky stuff. Many interacting genes could be involved in one single trait.

But scientists are hopeful that eventually parents will be able not only to choose an embryo without a defective cancer gene, for example, but able to actually alter the genetic code and make changes to it.

"We already perfected that technology in mice so it's already being applied to lots of mammal species -- [sheep], cows, goats," Silver said. "There is absolutely no reason why that same technology couldn't be applied to human embryos."

No reason -- except for some serious ethical concerns. As technology develops, ethicists are watching closely. And many are very wary of allowing parents to make genetic choices.

"It could radically change our view of human life, our view of children, our view of parenthood, our view of our relationships to each other and what it means to be human," said Boston University bioethicist George Annas.

"These are very gut basic things, and we don't want to mess with them unless the benefits outweigh the risks," Annas said.

Annas and others also worry about who will get the benefits. Will only rich Americans be able to afford genetic tinkering?

"There is going to be a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and so the children of the rich really might be beautiful, and the children of ordinary people won't have access to the same sorts of expensive technologies," Saffo said.

Whether that happens in 25 years depends on what parents decide is appropriate to do with the scientific technology we will almost surely have.

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